Success: Belief, Method and Vision

Rowden July 2012

If the coach doesn’t believe in the player, then he/ she will find it difficult to win. Players sense very quickly whether the coach is fully behind them and supportive or if he/she is just going through the motions and is really quite certain they have little or no chance. It often happens in Europe for example when Europeans meet Asian opponents that the lack of belief from the coach impacts on his/her player’s performance.

Too many coaches blame the players, when what is needed is support and guidance and not some form of blame culture. Whose fault is it if the player is inadequately prepared, not good enough or even several levels below the opposition? This is a situation for the coach to address in training or in an upgrade of coaching methods and is a subject for research from his/her side, not from the player’s perspective! It doesn’t help at all to come down hard on the player and destroy his/her confidence by ‘rubbishing’ the level of performance or dwelling on the gap between him/her and the opponents.

Too many National Coaches in Europe try to rule by fear and/or to insist on all the better players attending the National Academy, which is supposed to be the last word in top coaching, but quite often isn’t! As we become more civilised and try to respect the rights of children and teenagers in the West, the rule of fear no longer gets results and far too often only covers the inadequacies of the coaches and the coaching systems. As far as Academies are concerned it becomes rather difficult to explain just how putting a group of young, relatively inexperienced players of similar ages together in the same training group will produce world champions! Much more is required than this.

The one course of action which could and would work but which unfortunately is usually too little explored (and often for other reasons doesn’t happen), is to spend much more time on the individual characteristics of each player, working with him/her so that the player reaches maximum potential and is comfortable with the way in which he/she plays. Unfortunately for a coach to have a high level of understanding and success in this area more often than not requires decades of coaching experience and years of working with players of many diverse playing styles. This kind of development is not going to occur in Academies or High Performance Groups where large groups are involved and the coaches don't have enough time with the players, nor will it happen where the coaches are young ex-players, whose understanding of this aspect of player evolution is severely limited.

Too often in the West the coaches working at a high level with players just starting to get into National Teams, want to change things from the word go. It seems strange that a player who has done so well nationally that he/she is suddenly brought to the attention of the ‘top’ coaches, is immediately found to have so many areas in his/her game that need complete restructuring! It is perhaps even more surprising that such players are then not allowed to develop their own individual strengths and to play in the way which suits them and with which they feel most comfortable: instead they are pressurised into playing in a way which will be successful at international level (but which often isn’t, because everyone else is doing this and most others are better at it!).

It really is very simple. Too many coaches have an idea in their own mind of just how the successful player should perform, so they then try to force their players into this style of play. This method ignores certain very important principles:
• You will never make a player into a world-beater by spending time developing areas where he/she is at best only mediocre.
• Players perform best when they adopt a style of play which suits them and with which they are comfortable.
• If we are always looking to others (the top players of the moment) as role models to show us the way forward, then we are always coming from behind in the race for the finishing line. We never create the flexibility and vision to focus on and recognise the individual characteristics of the player, which could, if developed in the right the way, project him/her to much higher levels on the world scene.

Innovation and vision in coaching is required throughout Europe, but more than ever when the players reach the higher echelons of national development. The fine tuning here is critical to the player ever achieving full potential and being the best he/she can be. To start back-tracking at this stage and altering aspects which don’t need changing or to introduce variations in style which are not relevant to how the player performs best, are totally destructive and beyond comprehension.

A considerable number of the older coaches in Europe with many years of experience are very much of the opinion, that there must be a great deal more individual emphasis on player development if we are ever to match the Asians at world level. Of course and this goes without saying, we should also be aware of which styles of play and which strategies and tactics are most successful at top levels in world play (but are we even precise and knowledgeable enough in these aspects? The last time for example that a European woman won the Worlds was in 1955!)

But it is critical to develop our players in the West in a way which allows their natural strengths to blossom and flower. From the start as young players are evolving, coaches should look for strengths and build on these; particularly coaches should look for areas where players are different and perform differently, where they have a specialty. Differences and specialties should not be eradicated rather they should be built on, for it is these very aspects which opponents will find most difficult to play against and which will give our players in the West an ‘edge’ in their journey to the top levels.